The Red Sox’s somewhat surprising playoff run — which opens a new chapter Friday in the American League Championship Series — isn’t just good news for fans. It’s also triggering a much-needed boon in business at bars around Fenway Park, after a brutal year and a half.
At Game On!, a sports bar and entertainment venue tucked into the ground floor of Fenway Park, general manager Joe Hicks said business has risen tenfold since baseball season began. And for the first time since the pandemic started, operations finally feel back to normal.
For him, the fan-filled games next door come as a relief after the pandemic crushed 80 to 90 percent of the bar’s business.
“It was terrible. We didn’t have any customers,” Hicks said. “We just hunkered down and we crawled through it, but we’re still moving.”
A few blocks down Brookline Avenue, the baseball crowd squeezing into Trillium Brewing has more than made up for the loss of its usual customer base of office workers. And with the Red Sox in the playoffs, gameday crowds have grown more intense.
“Usually a few people would linger around through the first two innings, but now it’s kind of hard out for everybody and we have a big pre-game rush,” floor manager Weston Koenn said.
Doug Bacon owns eight bars and restaurants around Boston, three in close proximity to Fenway Park: The Kenmore in Kenmore Square, The Westland in Fenway, and The Corner Tavern in Back Bay.
These bars began benefitting from the games as soon as Fenway reopened to fans, Bacon said, but the level of customers didn’t peak until the playoffs began earlier this month because for much of the season, the Sox weren’t selling out most of their games.
“But now, with the playoffs, we are seeing a large volume of customers before and after the game,” Bacon said. “It’s a good thing and we’re happy to have it.”
Still, staffing shortages continue to plague his bars, Bacon said. Unfilled positions are everywhere — he needs managers, servers, bartenders, chefs, and line cooks. It’s forced some of his locations to limit hours and restrict capacities.
And the ongoing supply chain issues don’t help Bacon’s situation. His restaurants are missing everything from chicken to Heinz Tomato Ketchup to paper napkins. As a result, his staff has had to substitute some menu items and raise prices.
“We’re trying to hold the line as much as we can,” Bacon said. “But it’s difficult because we’re paying our staff more, and we’re paying more for the ingredients that we buy to prepare our food.”
These troubles have also made it difficult for other bars in the area, including Bukowski Tavern, to meet customer demand. Despite the bar’s perch seated more than half a mile down the Massachusetts Turnpike from Fenway Park, late-night baseball fans have doubled its business.
“My [food] purveyor basically dumped me because I’m not big enough,” owner Suzi Samowski said. “So I’ve had to actually go purchase my own food at Restaurant Depot and BJ’s and load it in my car and deliver it myself because they don’t have enough drivers.”
Aside from chicken, the tavern has struggled to get tater tots and canola oil. And because of skyrocketing costs, Samowski said she has had to raise some prices — though not by much, she said, because customers view Bukowski as reasonably priced and she hopes to stay true to that reputation.
Week by week, business continues to grow. Bukowski doesn’t usually attract sports lovers, according to Samowski, but the Red Sox playoffs have brought in a clear shift to its customer base.
“I think because we’re one of the only places open late, we definitely get hit after the games all at once,” she said. “It’s hard to handle, to go from zero to 100. But we’re so excited. We’re cheering them on even more than normal.”
Angela Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.